Identification by teeth

If you watch detective shows like CSI, Law and Order, or Criminal Minds you already know that a corpse can be identified by dentition. Not only can we tell who the murder victim is, but now we can tell where they came from. With new technology, we can learn many things from a person’s teeth. In today’s blog, your Lake Forest Dentist, Dr. Fondriest, tells you how your teeth can tell your tale.  

University of Florida Study

It’s been discovered that teeth can help police solve cold cases, and not just by identifying the victim, but by pinpointing where they are from. This can save law enforcement agency’s resources by preventing them investigating murders in the wrong geographical area. Testing for lead in dentition of a decomposed corpse can help focus the investigation in a certain geographical area, saving law enforcement manpower, time, and money.

Identification can be made from the lead in your teeth

Lead is found in rocks, soils, and ores around the world. It is composed of four variants, called isotopes. The amount of isotopes varies depending on the geographical area of the rocks or soil. Lead is a pollutant that is released into the environment through mining and various other ways and it accumulates in your body as you grow. By inhaling dust that contains lead, and/or accidentally ingesting dirt while playing as a child, the lead is locked into your developing tooth enamel preserving the isotopes. As you grow you are recording signals from your local environment. Therefore, as ironic as it may seem, pollution can help determine where victims came from.  When you relocate, or if your body is relocated after death, your isotope will be different from that of the local population indicating that you’re a transplant.

Different Teeth, Different Information

Because the enamel on different teeth develops at different rates certain teeth reveal different information. For instance:

Birth to Age 3: The enamel on the first molar finishes developing by age 3. Therefore, the first molar can provide information from birth to age 3.

Early Childhood: The enamel on the incisors and canines begins developing later and finishes around age 5 providing information from the early childhood years.

Late Childhood: The enamel on the third molar does not begin developing until age 8, so the third molar provides information regarding late childhood.

Historical vs. Modern Times

Lead analysis can also indicate the time period a body is from. There is a distinct difference between modern lead exposure and historical lead exposure because the natural composition of lead has changed over the past century. As a result, modern and historical teeth have different signals which can indicate European bodies, different eras, and different areas. American teeth are distinct from all others in the world. For instance, South Americans may overlap with Europeans, but due to the use of ores with distinct isotopes in the United States, American teeth can be identified anywhere. According to the study, your body is a mirror to your environment.

A Recent Example of Identification by teeth

A recent example concerns a study of the bone and tooth chemistry of King Richard III of England. Isotope analysis of tooth material from the king revealed his whereabouts as a child, young adult, and when he was king. According to analysis of the changes in chemistry found in his teeth, his diet and location changed during early childhood. Isotope measurements of strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and lead in relation to pollution, geographic location, and diet showed that Richard had moved from Fotheringay castle in eastern England before the age of seven. According to the isotope analysis of his teeth, his diet changed from that of his place of birth in Northamptonshire, and he lived in an area with more rain and older rocks.

About Your Lake Forest Dentist:

Aside from providing dependable general and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is a former adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from all surrounding communities. To schedule a consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.